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Rose of Versailles Second Impression

About halfway through (just getting warmed up with the Revolution), and a few more thoughts:

The heavily embellished art is interesting. Some of it is classic shoujo extreme—swirls of roses, closeups of conflicting character faces superimposed on each other, flashy stills. Others are more symbolic—little reveries with characters symbolically getting stabbed artistically, laughing maniacally, or running away in tears right in the middle of a scene that doesn’t break continuity, making it clear that it’s in their head. And still more are somewhat 70s-ish raw artistry—shots that are covered by a torrent of blood, multi-panel repeated images (it goes absolutely berserk with Marie Antoinette’s big give-in to her court rival), and some just plain abstract backgrounds of swirling colors on occasion. Some are so overblown or old-fashioned it’s funny, some are actually surprisingly effective.

The use of light and color in a more literal sense (for example, gold-washed scenes at sunset) is memorable—definitely some good artistic design going on, and makes the overall somewhat garish old-school coloring much less noticeable on average, since it’s balanced out with artistically extreme coloring. Use of shadow is also pretty good for the era.

The court drama is growing on me. Still very petty, but then it repeatedly contrasts that with the miserable peasantry really giving a pretty good idea why the revolution ended up happening. It’s still somewhat sympathetic to the nobility without giving much reason for it other than a general “they’re people, too,” but the contrast is interesting, and seems to be going somewhere with Oscar’s increasing distaste for the rich and titled despite being one of them.

It finally got to some outright same-gender potential romance after 15 episodes, which is amusingly restrained given that in actual history Marie Antoinette was plagued by rumors of being a lesbian for most of her public life. Even more ironic that those public accusations aren’t mentioned at all until another half-dozen episodes later (though they do actually use the word “lesbian” which is more than can be said of a lot of yuri-themed stuff, plus an “in the manner of Lesbos” comment for some added historical flavor).  As for Oscar (the only one being more than just accused), she’s got one girl (and a few nameless courtiers) infatuated with her, but doesn’t even seem to register—I’d say straight as an arrow except for one scene where she’s (I assume unwittingly) totally putting the moves on.  She’s a bit of a cipher, however—maybe more going on upstairs than obvious.

Oscar remains an interesting character; likably manly, pretty restrained though occasionally loses it in particularly injust situations, and has a very, very low-key thing going with Andre—mostly “just friends” despite some obvious interest. The “I’m a woman living as a man’s man out of duty” angle is toned way down after the first few episodes, also—she’s pretty straightforward just a soldier doing her job with very little personal life after that, at least thus far.  Totally a wimp, too—the French Revolution isn’t her fault, but her inability to point out the obvious because she’s just too nice isn’t helping.

On that cipher note, the one big flaw in the characterization is that the series has a tendency to have people (particularly Oscar) be very observant with subtle goings-on when it’s important to the plot, and then completely oblivious the rest of the time.  I’m left wondering if Oscar is dense with flashes of brilliance of if the writing is just uneven.

Speaking of the cipher thing, that’s my biggest complaint with the art, actually—the character expressions often just plain don’t match up with what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Particularly Oscar and even Andre, rather than having exaggerated emotional responses, frequently have sort of smug half-smiles even when they’re saying something serious. At first it made me think of them as kind of weird, but after a while I realized it’s just some serious disconnect in the artwork—the voice acting matches the plot fine, and is surprisingly good all around (Oscar in particular sounds powerful but still somewhat feminine—reminds me of Aya Hisakawa’s spectacular performance as Youko in 12 Kingdoms three decades later). The character animation is otherwise not particularly bad for the era—somewhat stiff, but there are a few above-average bits as well. The music is similarly out of synch with the plot; some scenes that are, so far as I can tell, intended to be taken as showing the nobility as out of touch are paired with overblown pretty music that makes it seem like the soundtrack is idealizing the wealthy lifestyle and the people living it much more than the series actually does.

A better soundtrack and character animators actually paying attention to what the characters are doing would really have helped a lot.

On the plus side, the rest of the character animation seems to have improved somewhat after maybe 20 episodes.

Historically, at least as far as Wikipedia can be trusted, it’s relatively accurate when it comes to general goings on. Obviously some villainous plots have been added, and Oscar of course didn’t exist and so a lot of what she’s involved in is fiction, but the most major villains and significant characters are proving to be ones with at least some historical accuracy.

Final thought:  It’s not a big deal, but there are a few blatant continuity flubs that are kind of amusing if you notice. Oscar gets stabbed, very clearly, in the back… then in the next episode it’s discussed at length how her arm is injured.  Earlier, they go into a one-room flat at street level, then jump out of the back window… which is a 3-story drop into a river.  Theoretically that could be possible, but I doubt it.

Overall, though, enjoying it more than I expected to.  It will be very interesting to see where it goes once the Revolution gets in full swing.

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